USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Women

Working Together to Save Moms & Kids in Afghanistan

A decade ago, Afghanistan’s health system collapsed, leaving crumbling and neglected infrastructure, widespread prevalence of malnutrition, infectious disease, and some of the highest maternal mortality rates the world had ever seen. Over the last decade, the Ministry of Public Health, in a strong partnership with the international community, has made major progress in improving the health of Afghan mothers and children. National programs to improve the quality of, and increase access to, basic health services and essential hospital services, along with programs to increase the number of trained female providers including midwives, and improved community-based healthcare, contributed to these significant achievements.

In Afghanistan, USAID is working with the Government to build capacity in its Ministry of Health, among midwives, and in local hospitals, and have helped to increase health coverage from eight percent to over 60 percent of the people over ten years.  This progress has helped the country realize an incredible drop in infant, child and maternal mortality rates, and the global community move the dial on Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5.

Watch Dr. Suraya Dalil, Minister of Public Health in Afghanistan, talk about this incredible milestone.

Designing Smartphones For Resource-Poor Women

Mobile phone use in the developing world is exploding, yet women are at risk of being left behind.   On average, GSMA research shows women to be 21 per cent less likely than men to own a mobile phone in low- to middle-income countries.  The resulting mobile phone gender gap represents as many as 300 million women in the developing world who do not have access to this potentially life-enhancing tool.

Barriers to mobile phone ownership among resource-poor women include limited technical literacy and limited understanding of the full potential of mobile devices and services.  The GSMA mWomen Program, as part of USAID’s mWomen Global Development Alliance, set out to address this by launching the GSMA mWomen Design Challenge: Redefining the User Experience at the third annual Social Good Summit in New York on Sunday. Through submissions from the global design and developer community, the design challenge seeks to increase access to life enhancing mobile services so that regardless of someone’s skill level, they can pick up a phone and maximize its potential.

The Power of Storytelling

“I have been able to build a cement house with my income and provide for my children and extended family with food, clothes, and school.” Photo Credit: Bita Rodrigues, USAID/Mozambique

Working in international development and public health for more than three decades, I have visited numerous poverty fighting programs in some of the poorest communities in the world. I have listened to the experts. I have heard the daunting statistics, and I have read the reports. Yet time and time again, I have been impressed by the stories of the resilient women and girls I’ve met along the way.

That is why I’m excited that CARE, USAID, the Independent Television Service (ITVS), and the Ford Foundation are launching Women and Girls Lead Global, a unique multi-partner initiative that will bring these deeply compelling stories to tens of millions of people worldwide. From Peru to Egypt to Bangladesh, these documentary films will air in nine countries over three years.  Our goal is to educate and inspire the public to take action on the development challenges and gender inequities that girls and women face.

The idea is simple: A growing number of girls and women are stepping into leadership roles. They are working tirelessly to improve their communities through the arts, sciences, business and government, but their stories are often unheard. This partnership will work with independent filmmakers to amplify the voices of these courageous leaders, whose trailblazing efforts are changing attitudes about what empowered girls and women can accomplish.

We also know that the media can be a powerful tool for stirring public dialogue and helping ordinary people initiate change in their communities. Research has shown that when women are equipped with the right resources, they have the power to lift their families and entire communities out of poverty. Our hope is that both men and women in all nine countries will advocate for more social, economic and political opportunities for girls and women and in the process build more equal, inclusive societies.

I know first-hand that partnerships on the ground can produce impactful and lasting results. That’s why I’m thrilled that CARE has joined such a dynamic and innovative partnership that involves experts from the media, government and civil society.

I encourage you to explore the Women and Girls Lead Global website, where you will find film clips and interactive activities. These girls and women have a story to tell, and with your support, their achievements will start a ripple of change in communities around the world.

Equal Futures Partnership Advances Global Women’s Opportunities

Sarah Mendelson is the Deputy Assistant Administrator for USAID's Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance. Credit: USAID

I am excited to have just returned from the kick-off of the Equal Futures Partnership to expand women’s opportunities around the world. The event was held in New York City and part of a number of events USAID is participating in during the United Nations General Assembly this week.

The world has made significant strides in expanding opportunity for women and girls; in the U.S., we just celebrated 40 years of Title IX, an act of Congress that changed the lives of many in my generation by enabling girls to have equal access to education playing sports. Equal access to sports in schools, particularly, taught many of us how to be fierce competitors and learn valuable lessons in team building.

Yet more work is needed to tackle the global gender inequality. Last week, I met in London with donors on this very topic where researchers discussed a number of startlingly facts:

  • In 2011, women held only 19 percent of parliamentary seats worldwide, while less than five percent of heads of state and government were women.
  • While in the past 25 years, women have increasingly joined the labor market, the World Bank’s 2012 World Development Report describes “pervasive and persistent gender differences” in productivity and earnings across sectors and jobs.
  • Though women are 43 percent of the agriculture labor force and undertake many unpaid activities, they own just a tiny fraction of land worldwide.

These realities demand an urgent response.

Building on President Obama’s challenge a year ago at UNGA, the United States government has partnered in a new international effort to break down barriers to women’s political participation and economic empowerment. The goal of the Equal Futures Partnership is to realize women’s human rights by expanding opportunity for women and girls to fully participate in public life and drive inclusive economic growth in our countries.

Through this partnership, the countries of Senegal, Benin, Jordan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Tunisia, Peru, Denmark, Finland, Australia and the European Union are all making new commitments to action, and will consult with national stakeholders inside and outside government, including civil society, multilateral organizations including UN Women and the World Bank, and the private sector, to identify and overcome key barriers to women’s political and economic participation.  This partnership promises to be groundbreaking not only for the countries involved but also for those who are watching its implementation.

USAID and its Center for Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance stands by to provide assistance to these countries as well as many others throughout the world as they work to advance women’s political participation and economic empowerment.

This is thrilling work that helps make the promise of development real for everyone–not just a privileged few.

Designing for Women: The Mobile Challenge

Imagine if you picked up a smartphone and didn’t know how to use it. What must it be like to have such a powerful device in the palm of your hand and not be able to utilize it? For many technically illiterate women in the developing world, navigating a smartphone or even a more basic feature phone is a real challenge.

Based on research performed in Egypt, India, Papua New Guinea and Uganda, as part of the GSMA mWomen Program, we know that on average, resource-poor women are 22% less likely to want a mobile phone because they would not know how to use it.  Yet we also know from other GSMA research that mobile phones afford women critical entrepreneurial opportunities, security, and a greater sense of family connection.

Mobile phone use in the developing world is exploding, yet women are at risk of being left behind, missing out on opportunities and services from education to healthcare.  Making the user experience easier would open up a multitude of possibilities. So what if there was a more intuitive way of navigating your phone?

The GSMA mWomen Program, as part of USAID’s mWomen Global Development Alliance, has set out to do just that by launching the GSMA mWomen Design Challenge: Redefining the User Experience at the third annual Social Good Summit in New York. Through submissions from the global design and developer community, the Design Challenge seeks to increase access to life enhancing mobile services so that regardless of someone’s skill level, they can pick up a phone and maximize its potential.

At the Social Good Summit, USAID, GSMA, AusAID, Qtel Group and the design firm Huge, shared possible approaches to solving this issue, by making the mobile user interface and experience more intuitive.  Mobile phones are a real game changer when it comes to tackling global challenges around the world but if the design does not change, hundreds of millions of women risk being left out in this next mobile revolution.  That is a risk we cannot afford to take.

A Gamechanger: Using Vaginal Rings to Deliver HIV Prevention

You’ve all seen the commercials, and may have friends that are using it – the contraceptive vaginal ring.  It’s quickly gaining popularity in the U.S. and elsewhere, because it’s so effective AND convenient to use – just pop it in once a month and forget about it.  The contraceptive vaginal ring has certainly sparked the interests of scientists working on HIV prevention, since use of a vaginal ring to deliver anti-HIV drugs would be a huge benefit in the fight against HIV, particularly for women.

Well, we’re one step closer to making that a reality: with funding from PEPFAR through USAID, researchers from the New York-based Population Council have found that a vaginal ring releasing an anti-HIV drug can prevent the transmission of SHIV in monkeys.  Their findings were recently published in Science Translational Medicine.  This study provides the first efficacy data on the delivery of an anti-HIV drug from a vaginal ring, and indicates strong potential for the success of such rings in women.

In their study, Council scientists examined whether vaginal rings containing a proprietary anti-HIV compound called MIV-150 could prevent the transmission of SHIV — a virus combining genes from HIV and SIV (the monkey version of HIV). Macaques received MIV-150 vaginal rings either two weeks or 24 hours before exposure to SHIV; a second group of macaques received placebo rings in the same manner.  In both groups the rings were removed either immediately before or two weeks after exposure to SHIV.

It turns out that it didn’t matter whether the MIV-150 rings were inserted two weeks or 24 hours before virus exposure – only two of 17 macaques with the MIV-150 rings got infected (compared to the placebo group, in which 11 out of 16 became infected). What was interesting, though, was that the protection was lost if the MIV-150 rings were removed just prior to virus exposure: in that scenario, four of seven monkeys were infected.

This important study in monkeys provides additional scientific support for clinical trials that are already starting in southern Africa with another anti-HIV vaginal ring.  This ring (releasing a drug called dapivirine) was developed by the International Partnership for Microbicides with support from USAID and a number of other donors. Further testing will take several years to complete.

What’s really exciting is that research organizations are working on vaginal rings that could deliver compounds that prevent HIV, other sexually-transmitted diseases such as HSV and HPV, and unintended pregnancy.  This kind of combination prevention option especially for women, also known as “multipurpose prevention technologies,” is a new area of research spear-headed by USAID, in collaboration with other donors such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the U.K.’s Department for International Development (DFID), and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that support research in family planning and reproductive health.  Learn more about new contraceptive and multipurpose prevention technologies in our slideshow.

Why We’re Celebrating Global Female Condom Day

Today is the first-ever Global Female Condom Day, and women and men around the world are celebrating. They’re also speaking out for increased recognition of a prevention method that is too often overlooked.

An educator demonstrates female condoms with students from the University of Yaoundé, Cameroun. Photo Credit: Association Camerounaise pour le Marketing Social (ACMS).

Those of us working on the frontlines of reproductive health are excited about the potential of this powerful tool for protection. Female condoms offer women—and men—dual protection from unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV. Female condoms are easy to use and can afford women greater control over safe sex negotiation – an especially important benefit in countries where women’s risk of contracting HIV is high. Some have argued that female condoms are too expensive, but mathematical modeling shows they can be a cost-effective public health intervention when offered as part of a well-planned STI and pregnancy prevention program.

But even with all of these advantages, female condoms don’t get the attention they deserve. The first female condom was introduced two decades ago. Yet today, awareness and availability remains too low in too many places, including areas with high rates of HIV infection and unmet need for family planning.

We have a technology available right now that gives women the power to save and enhance their own lives. Will we let two more decades pass before making it fully available to them?

Global Female Condom Day gives us the chance to publicly renew our commitment to achieving universal access to female condoms. The good news is that we are making progress toward this goal:

  • Female condom distribution is on the rise. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), global distribution of female condoms tripled from 2005 to 2009.
  • Female condom commodity and program support has been expanding, thanks to the leadership of international donors including UNFPA and the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Meanwhile, new initiatives including the Universal Access to Female Condoms Joint Programme (UAFC) are bringing large-scale female condom programming to more countries.
  • Female condoms are getting a boost from new advocacy initiatives. UAFC, the Center for Health and Gender Equity’s (CHANGE) Prevention Now! Campaign, and the recently launched US National Female Condom Coalition are galvanizing female condom supporters in theUnited States and worldwide to advocate for increased access.
  • New types of female condoms are becoming available, expanding options for dual protection.

Different types of female condoms were on display at the Condomize! booth at the XIX International AIDS Conference in Washington, DC. Photo Credit: Kimberly Whipkey, PATH

One new type of female condom is the Woman’s Condom, developed in part with funding from PEPFAR through USAID. PATH, CONRAD, and our research partners in several countries developed the Woman’s Condom using feedback from women and their partners. Their input helped us design a female condom that’s easy to insert, secure during use, and comfortable for both partners. Through our Protection Options for Women Product Development Partnership, we are now working to bring the Woman’s Condom to market inChina and sub-SaharanAfrica.

So, let’s celebrate these encouraging advances on this first Global Female Condom Day. And, let’s also renew our efforts to make sure that women everywhere have access to the tool we’re toasting.

Patricia S. Coffey leads the  Maternal, Neonatal, and Reproductive Health Technologies Group at PATH.

Impact on the Ground – Implementing the National Action Plan on Women, Peace & Security

Less than a year ago, President Obama announced a National Action Plan (NAP) to implement commitments on Women, Peace and Security.  It was a historic moment and the product of a tremendous collaboration between the White House, USAID, the Departments of State and Defense, other agencies, and civil society groups at home and abroad.  It was also the first step.

Immediately following this announcement, the real work began as each agency began creating an implementation plan, a roadmap to how we would make these commitments real.  Last week, I was thrilled to participate in the release of USAID’s Implementation Plan for the NAP.  This plan was crafted to provide guidance on how to both address the needs of women and provide them with the tools to empower themselves to be forceful change agents within their communities.

This critical step could not come soon enough.  For advocates focused on the empowerment and protection of women in conflict situations, these are heady times.  From graphic images of women being raped in the eastern Congo to young girls in Afghanistan having acid thrown in their faces for daring to return to school, the past few years have seen a growing international awareness of the tragic personal costs women pay for our failure to protect them in the context of armed conflict. We also now know the tremendous collective costs we pay as a global community for failing to draw on women’s talents for making and building peace, pursuing development, and reconstructing post-conflict societies.

But we are responding.  Through this Implementation Plan, we are working to ensure that we have impact on the ground by integrating and institutionalizing a gender-focused approach to peace and security; promoting women’s participation in peace processes and decision making; strengthening protection of women and children from hard, discrimination and abuse; and promoting women’s roles in conflict prevention.

Perhaps the most exciting about this plan is that it’s packed with programs that will have an impact on the ground.  For example, USAID will support new programs in the Philippines, Nepal, Yemen and elsewhere to strengthen women’s participation in peace-building and political processes. USAID will also establish a fund to catalyze implementation of the NAP through innovative activities that advance women, peace, and security in priority countries.

That said, we know the success of our efforts will not be measured by the policies we adopt, the resolutions and legislations we pass, the publicity we generate, or even the money we spend.  It will be measured by the degree to which we protect the well-being of women and girls faced with the horrors of war, empower them to play their rightful role in peace process and post-conflict reconstruction, hold government security forces and warlords alike accountable for acts of abuse and sexual violence, build strong civil society networks of women and for women, and end the stigma of victimization that confronts women leaders around the world.

USAID Women, Peace and Security Implementation Plan

As USAID releases its plan for implementing the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security (NAP), I cannot help but reflect on how important better involving women in peace processes will be to US foreign policy.

It was clear during my recent trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan that women in both countries deserve more influence. Not only would women benefit, their countries would. In Pakistan, female parliamentarians, noted to be among the most effective legislators, have passed critical laws combatting gender-based violence; they emphasized to me the need for investments in long-term development, a broader perspective than the one commonly heard from others in the country. Afghan women members of the National Peace Council abbreviated my conversation with them to meet with a large group of people who had arrived in Kabul after a many hour journey. The female council members were providing the critical link between ordinary citizens and officials in government, helping the population feel connected and invested in peace and stability.

The USAID plan for advancing the role of women in peace building is a small but important step towards ensuring women leaders their proper influence. I was honored to have been involved in its creation, particularly because I was invited to help with drafting after advocating from civil society for the development of a US NAP. It is a rare honor to advocate for change from outside government, only to be invited inside to help make that change.

Developing the plan involved some 150 USAID professionals around the world working in every sector. A great professional pleasure for me was leading global conference calls to discuss the USAID plan with experts in the Philippines, Russia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Colombia, Angola, Nepal as well as a dozen other countries around the world. The energy and enthusiasm exhibited during those conversations was palpable.

The USAID plan will only be as valuable as the action it prompts and the progress that results. That being said, I know women’s inclusion already is more central to USAID planning and execution of projects that advance global peace, prosperity and stability.”

 

Preventing and Responding to Gender-based Violence Globally

In Angola, where I was Ambassador from 1995-1998, I witnessed firsthand the broad effects gender-based violence can have on a society.  On the heels of the civil war there, demobilized soldiers were returning to their villages.  Often, what should have been happy homecomings were turning into just the opposite.   Out of place in societies that had learned to live without them in decades of absence, the former soldiers’ alienation produced a rash of domestic violence and rape. It was as if the end of the civil war produced an even more pernicious violence against women.

The problem of gender-based violence is not unique to post-conflict situations.  In fact, it’s a global pandemic that cuts across ethnicity, race, culture, class, religion, and educational level. One in three women worldwide has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime.

Women and girls are disproportionally affected by gender-based violence.  But men and boys can also be affected; and, in addition, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people face heightened risk of experiencing violence, including sexual violence.

President Obama recognizes the importance of addressing issues related to gender-based violence.

On Friday, I had the privilege to participate in a White House event to release the United States Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally.  The Strategy is an interagency response to a Congressional request, led by USAID and the U.S. Department of State.

The strategy  establishes a government-wide approach that identifies, coordinates, integrates, and leverages current efforts and resources. It sets concrete goals and actions to be implemented and monitored by Federal Agencies.   In addition, President Obama issued an Executive Order that creates an interagency working group co-chaired by the Secretary of State and the Administrator of the USAID and directs departments and agencies to implement the new United States Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally.

Gender-based violence undermines not only the safety, dignity, overall health status, and human rights of the millions of individuals who experience it, but also the public health, economic stability, and security of nations.

I look forward to helping our Missions and operating units in Washington translate the strategy into meaningful action for millions of men, women, and children worldwide. In order to combat gender-based violence, we must redouble our efforts to change attitudes and behaviors by engaging men and boys and empowering women and girls.  Realizing this vision requires the collective efforts of all.  USAID is committed to working in collaboration with other USG agencies, NGOs, faith based communities, private sector companies, and most importantly, women and men around the world impacted by gender-based violence.

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To learn more about the United States Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally, please visit http://www.usaid.gov/what-we-do/gender-equality-and-womens-empowerment.

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